Climate challengesMore Weather-Related Disasters Over Past 50 Years, Causing More Damage but Fewer Deaths

Published 3 September 2021

A disaster related to a weather, climate, or water hazard occurred every day on average over the past 50 years – killing 115 people and causing $ 202 million in losses daily. But while the number of climate change-driven disasters has increased by a factor of five over the 50-year period, the number of deaths decreased almost three-fold. thanks to improved early warnings and disaster management.

A disaster related to a weather, climate or water hazard occurred every day on average over the past 50 years – killing 115 people and causing $ 202 million in losses daily, according to a comprehensive new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The number of disasters has increased by a factor of five over the 50-year period, driven by climate change, more extreme weather and improved reporting. But, thanks to improved early warnings and disaster management, the number of deaths decreased almost three-fold.

According to the WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970 – 2019), there were more than 11 000 reported disasters attributed to these hazards globally, with just over 2 million deaths and US$ 3.64 trillion in losses.

The report is the most comprehensive review of mortality and economic losses from weather, water and climate extremes to date. It assesses the entire 50-year period as well as by individual decade.

From 1970 to 2019, weather, climate and water hazards accounted for 50% of all disasters, 45% of all reported deaths and 74% of all reported economic losses.

More than 91% of these deaths occurred in developing countries (using the United Nations Country Classification).

Of the top 10 disasters, the hazards that led to the largest human losses during the period have been droughts (650 000 deaths), storms (577 232 deaths), floods (58 700 deaths) and extreme temperature (55 736 deaths).

Deaths decreased almost threefold from 1970 to 2019. Death tolls fell from over 50 000 deaths in the 1970s to less than 20 000 in the 2010s. The 1970s and 1980s reported an average of 170 related deaths per day. In the 1990s, that average fell by one third to 90 related deaths per day, then continued to fall in the 2010s to 40 related deaths per day. 

With regard to economic losses, the top 10 events include storms (US$ 521 billion) and floods (US$ 115 billion).

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